Straddling the border between Albania and Macedonia, Ohrid sits on the lake of the same name, one of the deepest in Europe. The Church of Saint Jovan Kaneo teeters on a cliff above a harbour full of brightly coloured fishing boat, and there’s a scattering of small beaches. A few miles south, the Bay of Bones museum reconstructed prehistoric village built on stilts over the lake. The name refers not to human bones but to the many animal remains found in the water, some of which are on display inside. Visitors can opt to scuba dive to see the excavations under the water, which is blue in some lights, mythical green in others.
Stay at Hotel Villa Sveta Sofija, doubles from €60 room-only)
Try to see past the comedy name: Titisee is the largest natural lake in the Black Forest, perfect for a family pedalo outing (some come with onboard water slides). Medieval Titisee-Neustadt is a spa town with cute streets and a huge waterpark. Long-distance trails start from the Seestrasse promenade and there are spectacular views from a tower at the top of 1,190-metre Hochfirst mountain. Renting a bike is a great way to see the area: the Bähnle-Radweg path trail takes in breweries, waterfalls, farmyards and a huge viaduct. For a multi-country jaunt, Neustadt is also close to the French and Swiss borders.
Stay at Action Forest Active Hotel,doubles from £90 B&B
It wasn’t the setting for Frozen – but it could have been. The town of 1,000 residents is so perfectly formed it looks like it was designed by Walt himself. Much of Hallstat’s action focuses around Market Square, with its traditional buildings below towering trees. The square is the picturesque setting for processions, markets and live music throughout the summer. There are great views from the lakeside promenade of calm waters backed by the Dachstein mountains. A 350-metre-high Skywalk just outside town is a platform jutting from the cliff, with views as far as Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Those with a fear of heights may prefer a tour of the salt mines, said to be the oldest in the world. All details at hallstatt.net.
Stay at Scenic campsite Klaussner-Höll, tent pitch from €6, plus €9.90 per adult and €5.50 per child
Four hours from Helsinki, Ovaninlinna castle in the middle of Lake Saimma hosts a renowned opera festival in July and August each year. There are also plenty of water-based activities: fishing, kayaking, swimming. However, Savonians are traditionally very laid-back, and happy to while away their afternoon at a waterside restaurant serving fresh fish lunches and tart berry deserts.
Stay at Turtialan Lomakylä Holiday Village (one-bedroom self-catering cabin from €80
There’s plenty to explore in Poland’s majestic Masurian lake district: resort towns including Wegorzewo, Olecko and Gizycko are buzzing in summer. The more southerly town of Miko?ajki, near the region’s biggest lake, ?niardwy, makes a perfect base. The dainty town of red-roofed houses, with three bridges and a marina, is particularly popular with sailors: visitors can hire a boat and follow the waterways up to Gizycko, or cross the lake to Orzysz. The town hosts a sea shanty festival every July.
Stay at Aparthotel Mikolajki, doubles from £60 B&B aparthotelmikolajki.pl
On the bank of stunning Lake Annecy, the tranquil village of Talloires happens to be where Haitian dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier arrived after being given political asylum by France in 1986. But don’t hold that against it: it’s a peaceful alternative to the main town of Annecy, 30 minutes’ drive away. It also has an array of fine dining options, including the Michelin-starred Jean Sulpice restaurant at Auberge du Père Bise, a hotel once graced by the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Charlie Chaplin, and Aux Jardins des Délices, in the 17th-century Abbaye de Talloires hotel and known for its fantastic wine list and artful gastronomy. There are three beaches nearby, and Talloires makes an easy base for cycling and hiking.
Stay at La Villa des Fleurs, doubles from €90 room-only
Castiglione del Lago, Italy
On the corner of Lake Trasimeno, close to the Tuscan border in Umbria, the village of Castiglione del Lago dates back to the Roman, and before them the Etruscans (an ancient civilization that existed in north west Italy). Its 13th-century walls and gates are still standing, and its medieval churches have stunning 19th-century frescoes. More frescoes can be found at the 16th-century Palazzo Duca della Corgna. Enjoy sunbathing and volleyball on several nearby beaches, and ferries to lake islands including the peaceful Isola Maggiore. As if it couldn’t get any more picturesque, at the start of May the village hosts a kite festival, that sees the skies filled with colourful kites and hot air balloons.
Stay at Apartment Trasimeno Bandita, a former coach house sleeping four with shared pool, from £61 self-catering
Amid rolling hills on the southern shores of Lake Lugano, Morcote is one of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland. There’s a dreamy feel to its narrow streets and ancient buildings, and the romantic Scherrer botanical gardens right on the waterside. The energetic can make the five-to-six-hour hike to Lugano on a trail that takes in the summit of 912-metre Monte San Salvatore, with incredible views.
Stay at Hotel Morcote, doubles from £90 per night
Sweden’s oldest town (and a pretty one at that) was founded on the banks of Lake Mälaren, just west of Stockholm, in 980AD, so it’s a perfect place to discover Sweden’s history. As well as a medieval centre and several ruined churches, it’s home to 40 of the region’s famous rune stones, carved by the Vikings. Half an hour away, 17th-century Skokloster castle is the biggest private house in Sweden and one of five castles worth visiting in the region. It’s a great spot for outdoor adventure too, with two beaches, canoeing and other water sports.
Stay at Venner Bo traditional rooms and cottages, with shared facilities and communal kitchens, cost from £37 for a double or twin
An hour’s drive north of Malaga, the small town of Iznájar looks across the Embalse de Iznájar – the biggest reservoir in Andalucía – from a rocky mount. Established in the 8th century, the historic site includes the ruins of a 1,200-year-old castle, while the Barrio del Coso is a timeless maze of narrow streets and alleys. The freshwater lake itself has a beach where you can swim, rent canoes or sailing boats, and is surrounded by rolling hills carpeted in olive groves, where you can stock up on locally produced oil.
Stay at Cortijo las Rosas, holiday cottages just outside of Iznájar from €55 per night for two or €82.50 for four